Mark Sribney Compares Cat-Skiing and Heli-Skiing
Skiing is one of the most popular recreational activities in the world and there are no signs of this changing in the future. While conventional skiing is generally known and understood by the public, there are two sub-categories of skiing that will take you off of the beaten path to higher heights, untouched trails, and much greater thrills.
Mark Sribney, a commercial helicopter pilot and experienced backcountry skier from Edmonton, Alberta, provides an overview of the details of cat-skiing and heli-skiing, as well as a subsequent comparison of both to help you decide which option is the right one for you.
Definitions of Cat-Skiing and Heli-Skiing
To begin with, both cat-skiing and heli-skiing involve using a specific means of transportation to travel further up into the mountains than most traditional ski courses can go. This is done with the intention of reaching higher altitudes, and, more importantly, far less crowded trails, often with snow that is completely untouched.
The key difference between cat-skiing and heli-skiing is the means of transportation, says Mark Sribney. Cat-skiing utilizes a special vehicle known as a snowcat, which is a box-like vehicle with treads that allow it to traverse difficult mountain terrain. Meanwhile, heli-skiing utilizes helicopter transport in order to bypass such difficult terrain entirely. Both types of skiing have advantages and disadvantages, as compared below.
The mountain terrain you can expect to ski on will be different depending on which type of skiing you decide to go with. For cat-skiing, as the snowcat is limited by both a slower traveling speed as well as the mountain itself, you will find that if you choose this means of transportation, you will not be able to go as far off the beaten path.
Meanwhile, heli-skiing promises more flexibility, as helicopters have a generally easier time traveling to higher, more remote locations than snowcats. As a result, more unique skiing terrain is accessible.
There are substantial pricing differences between cat-skiing and heli-skiing. In almost all cases, notes Mark Sribney, the costs associated with the operation of a helicopter to transport civilians across mountain landscapes are higher. As a result, heli-skiing is generally more expensive than cat-skiing.
Another factor to consider when you are trying to decide between heli-skiing and cat-skiing is the amount of time that each method takes. Cat-skiing, on average, will take longer simply because a snowcat cannot move as quickly up the mountains as a helicopter can. The versatility of a helicopter allows it to both access more unique terrain and do so more quickly. Should you choose heli-skiing, you can expect quicker trips down the mountain than cat-skiing.
While ideal weather is optimal for the best skiing conditions, it is pivotal to consider how both cat-skiing and heli-skiing are affected by adverse weather conditions. If you decide on the former, a snowcat vehicle is essentially weather-proof; this means that skiing will go ahead in weather conditions outside those that are extremely unsafe for skiers. Meanwhile, heli-skiing is much more susceptible to the weather and trips can be delayed if the weather is anything less than optimal.
The number of people that you will be traveling with will differ based on whether you choose heli-skiing or cat-skiing, says Mark Sribney. A snowcat is able to hold more people, so larger group sizes between 10 and 14 are normal for this method. Helicopters are only able to transport a few people at a time, typically 4-6, so heli-skiing has subsequently smaller group sizes.
Final Thoughts from Mark Sribney
One caveat to remember is the common routines of either method of transportation. If you choose cat-skiing, you will be assigned to one snowcat for the duration of your trip. This means that it is acceptable to leave your belongings in it. Conversely, the helicopters used in Heli-Skiing are typically passed between groups, so if you choose this method, ensure that you take everything with you at all times.
The last factor to consider when cat-skiing or heli-skiing is the level of skill required. Generally speaking, both types of skiing require a high degree of skill. In either case, Mark Sribney warns that neither cat-skiing nor heli-skiing is beginner level skiing activities.